Susan Granger’s review of “The Dinner” (The Orchard/Protagonist Pictures)
When teenagers commit a heinous crime, how should their parents react?
That’s the ethical dilemma propelling writer/director Oren Moverman’s meandering morality play/meditation, based on Dutch novelist Herman Koch’s controversial bestseller, first published in the Netherlands in 2009.
It begins with the narrator, Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan), as he and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) prepare to join Paul’s older brother Stan (Richard Gere), and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) at a pretentiously elite and outrageously expensive restaurant for dinner.
Since their sibling rivalry has left them estranged since childhood, the brothers rarely socialize, but their three sons (Charlie Plummer, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Miles J. Harvey) have grown up together. Now 16, two of the teenagers commit a callous hate crime in an ATM booth that’s shocked the country.
While their sons’ identities have not yet been discovered, although a video was posted on YouTube, their parents must decide what action to take.
Pragmatic, politically ambitious, yet principled Stan Lohman seemingly has the most at stake, since he’s a popular U.S. Congressman who is launching a campaign for Governor, an exalted position his trophy second wife has set her sights on.
Troubled Paul is a former high-school history teacher whose incipient rage ripples just below his superficial calm, while patient, supportive Claire is a cancer survivor.
The narrative debate is structured around the epicurean feast’s successive courses, but Moverman (“Time Out of Mind”) and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski take us away from the posh restaurant setting momentarily by intercutting disconcertingly fragmented flashbacks of the children’s childhoods and the brothers’ trip to the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, where so many lives were sacrificed.
The central psychological carnage is overly complicated and self-consciously clever, but Steve Coogan’s agonizing grasp of acerbic Paul’s frustration is stunning. Richard Gere falls back on his usual grace and charm, while Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall convincingly embody their respective roles.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Dinner” is an ominously unbalanced, undercooked 4, culminating in an infuriatingly enigmatic conclusion.